Stocks Higher at Mid-Day; Retail Sales Rise, Tame Wholesale Prices Spur Buying

Stocks are moderately higher at mid-session as investors focus on retail sales figures that have risen for nearly two quarters while prices paid at the wholesale level showed inflation remains in check. Stocks also received a boost from progress on the tax cut package in the Senate.

Earlier this morning, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose for in November for the fifth straight month, with department stores booking their biggest gains in two years. Total retail sales increased 0.8% in November following a 1.7% gain in October.

Wholesale prices also jumped to an eight-month high, but inflation outside of volatile food and energy prices remains benign. Trading could be influenced later today as Federal Reserve meets for the last time this year. No policy changes are expected from the 2:15PM EST statement.

Investors also were buoyed by a Senate vote late yesterday to move President Obama's tax cut package to a final vote.

In mid-day company news:

Shares of General Electric ( GE ) are higher after the company won a $500 million in a services and equipment contract from Saudi Aramco in a project that will increase oil production from that country's Shaybah oil deposit, the company said in a statement. The contract will allow the capacity from the deposit to be boosted by 1 million of barrels a day.

American International Group Inc. ( AIG ) is higher after its board chairman remarked in an interview that the once-troubled insurer is starting to consider possible acquisitions. Chairman Robert Miller did not provide a timeline or possible targets in the interview with The Deal, explaining that AIG executives were only now thinking about compatible firms following a long string of divestitures over the past two years, stemming from its collapse during the financial crisis.

HCP Inc. ( HCP ) is higher in regular-session trading after announcing a $6.1-billion bid to acquire HCR ManorCare Inc. from the Carlyle Group. The deal includes HCP paying $3.53 billion in cash and $1.72 billion from reinvested debt instruments plus about $850 million in stock.

Shares of Nokia ( NOK ) are down after the company said it planned to cut about 800 jobs in its home market in Finland. The company has finished negotiations with representatives of employees, and the cuts will go into effect in January. Also this morning, Nokia has delayed the rollout of its next flagship model, the E7, into early next year, missing the key holiday sales season on developed markets, Reuters reports. The E7 is similar to its current flagship model the N8, but has a full slide-out keyboard. The N8 was also delayed earlier this year.

Also cutting jobs, Yahoo ( YHOO ), which is trading slightly higher, is reportedly planning to cut between 600 and 650 jobs, or nearly 5% of its workforce. Affected workers will be notified starting today, several news outlets report.

Amgen Inc (AMGN) is higher in regular-session trading after reporting a clinical trial for Xgeva, also known as denosumab, found the bone drug can delay the spread of prostate cancer into patient's bones at least 4.2 months.

Shares of Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) and First Horizon National (FHN) are down after both regional banks sold stock to repay the government. The stock sales were sold at a discount to yesterday's closing price.

Shares of Charles River Laboratories (CRL) are higher after the company said Tuesday it was looking at strategic alternatives for certain assets as a part of a larger cost-cutting program. The company plans to aggressively manage costs and pursue certain strategic alternatives for underperforming pre-clinical services, according to the company. Charles River also issued mixed 2011 guidance, which weighed on shares.

Shares of General Motors (GM) are down after a Wall Street Journal report that the auto maker is offering buyouts and early-retirement incentives in hopes of persuading up to 3,000 skilled-trades workers to leave U.S. plants. The auto maker is offering a $60,000 payment to workers at 14 factories to either retire or leave the company by March. They have until Dec. 23 to decide whether to take the offers. Many of the incentives are aimed at workers at GM plants scheduled for closure.

Shares of Yingli Green Energy (YGE) are higher in the regular session after the company announced before the market opened that it has entered into a three-year sales contract with S.A.G. Solarstrom AG, a manufacturer, independent developer and system integrator in the solar power and solar investment market in Europe.

Commodities are near even; February gold contracts are up $1, or 0.09%, to $1,399 an ounce while January crude oil contacts are up 0.03%, or $0.01, at $88.62 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is up 0.45% to $38.06 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is down 2.81% to $5.88.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.31% to $136.47. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is up 0.19% to $62.34. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.17% to $28.92.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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